I don’t have much to say on the “Occupy” movement, though I’ve been thinking about it quite a bit. I don’t have much to say because I haven’t had the time or energy to really look into (one of the consequences of being a new dad). But in those moments that I have had, it seems more than a little clear to me that one of the reasons the usual media suspects don’t know how to handle it is because it is a movement that truly transcends the usual dichotomies of American public discourse.
“Although the hyperreal operates as its own type of reality, this does not mean that its provenance is divorced from the material conditions in which we live. The fact that the images that the media project can be readily identified as “representations,” rather than the truth of the matter, works to further mask the political, social, and cultural interests involved. At the same time, these images have the force of reality and serve as a conduit of meaning. No doubt, viewers can recognize the Arab terrorists in the Arnold Schwarzenegger film True Lies (1994) as fictional characters (“It’s just a movie!”), but these images undoubtedly reinforce, if not substantively inform, American viewers’ notions of Islam and the U.S.-Middle East conflict.”
The Angry Asian Buddhist is Angry. Again. This week, the target of his ire is an article by David Nichtern on the Huffington Post, an article that wasn’t all that interesting (to me anyway) and raised the same issues and questions that Arun has raised time and again for years now. A lively discussion, with accusations of racism flying this way and that, has flared up on the Angry Asian Buddhist blog (and also on a not-exactly-related post on Dharma Folk). I was going to make a comment over there, but after I filled in the little comment field, I selected the wrong account, the comment vanished, I got a phone call, and stopped caring about whatever it was that I was going to say. But let me tell you this: whatever I was going to say was going to be brilliant!
Anyway. Whatever I was going to say is not what I’m about to say. I’ve been feeling frustrated lately with the whole project of blogging, truth be told. And, as my long-time readers will attest, ordinarily I’d jump on the Angry Asian bandwagon, champion diversity, rail against systems of oppression, act like the Feminist Hulk (or his [her?] Buddhist counterpart), and SMASH. But I just can’t seem to get riled up about this stuff. I can’t help thinking to myself, to what end? What is the point of all of this?
Over the weekend, thanks to the miracle that is the Internets, I found out that I was quoted in the Winnipeg Free Press in an article about a newly opened Buddha Bar in that fair city. Funny, I thought to myself, I don’t recall having been interviewed by anyone from the Winnipeg Free Press, or ever having traveled to Winnipeg, let alone to any Buddha Bar. But, there I am. Waxing philosophically about the evils of capitalism and everything that’s wrong with a drinking hole named after the founder of my religion.
My wife and I have started watching a new show called Parenthood, (very loosely) based on the <a href="1989 movie of the same name. The television version is set in Berkeley though clearly some alternate reality Berkeley who’s had its progressive-liberal claws removed and it looked like the pilot, at least, was actually filmed here in the Bay Area, so it’s local connection was an immediate hook. I find myself wanting to like the show more than I actually do. It’s leaning toward being good, but hasn’t quite gotten there yet.
Sarah Braverman, the Diane Wiest character, played here by former Gilmore Girls mom Lauren Graham, has an interesting story line. She’s clearly being written as the plucky, down on your luck, possibly working-class character in juxtaposition to her upper-middle class siblings and parents. Her sister is a high-powered attorney and one of her brothers seems to own his own business. Her other brother (the Tom Hulce character from the film) seems to be a screw-up, but he also lives on a houseboat, has a wealthy girlfriend, and works in a recording studio. Unlike his movie character, I don’t see him getting thrown out of a moving car in front of his parent’s house any time soon.
Sarah, on the other hand, never went to college. She’d been a bartender in Fresno before leaving her alcoholic husband and taking her two teenaged kids with her back to Berkeley where they have to live with her parents while she looks for a new job. In last week’s episode, she enrolls her kids in the local high school; but because of some transcript or bureaucratic mix-up, her daughter is being forced to repeat the 10th grade.
When the mom finds out, she goes to the principal’s office to plead her daughter’s case. Now, this show is a mellow-drama, so this scene is full of heavy-handed music and platitudes while the mom bravely holds back tears and the principal wear a stern yet compassionate expression. In one of the subsequent scenes, we see the principal taking the daughter out of her class, ostensibly escorting her to the 11th grade. Mom won.
So this year I am getting involved in a new project, once the hectic first couple of months of the new year settle down (after seminars, classes, conferences, vacation). It’s a project I’m feeling extremely optimistic about, one that touches on a topic near and dear to my heart, and one that I hope will be of value to the larger Buddhist community.
Along with the help of some friends, we’re launching PrapaÃ±ca, a quarterly, online Buddhist journal featuring both original reporting and opinion pieces on a wide variety of Buddhist topics, but also fiction, poetry, and the arts. The co-founders/editors and I are passionate not only about bringing a wide diversity of Buddhist voices to our future readers, we’re also passionate about creating a venue for writers of Buddhist fiction and poetry to showcase their work.
The journal is set to go live in June of 2010. I recognize that a more than three-month lag between announcement and launch is a near eternity in Internet time, but I wanted to make this announcement now as a way to solicit contributions. We’re taking this project seriously, which means that we want to create something of real value, something of substance, and that means we want to give folks plenty of time to write their hearts out before the official launch.
Please check out the submission guidelines here and contact us with any questions, with your ideas, with your feedback, with offers of help. We’re all ears!
And of course there will be occasional updates leading up to the launch. We’ve set up a Twitter account and Facebook page for just this reason. Feel free to follow, become a fan, etc., etc., and stay tuned for further announcements.
In my last post on this issue, my overall point was two-fold: (1) there are real differences between Buddhism and Christianity that aren’t being discussed in the Brit Hume kerfuffle; and (2) that Brit Hume exposes a deeper religious double-standard in our country that may be the better target of our discontent. In this post, I’d like to talk about a related but separate issue, that is, how the mainstream media represented Buddhists in their response to Brit Hume’s comment.
I’ve wavered back and forth quite a bit about whether or not I wanted to weigh in on the whole Brit Hume thinks Tiger Woods should be a Christian thing. But I think there are a couple of points in all of this that are worth bringing into the spotlight, so, albeit a little late, here goes.
First, some disclaimers.
For starters, I think Marcus is right. Our outrage is no doubt better served by protesting actual atrocities committed against Buddhists the world over rather than the vacuous comments of one talking head on a network not generally known for being particularly fair or balanced. Moreover, I think that we’re right in spending our energies on real human suffering, such as that in Haiti right now, and that, in the grand schemes of things, Pat Robertson deserves far more ire than Mr. Hume.
But I also think that some of the commenters on Marcus’ post are, at least partly, also right. This was something of interest to us here in the States, and it is worth talking about to the extent that, to borrow a phrase, media matters (it is the message, after all). So, while I respect the fact that we should all be doing Other Things right now, I’m going to talk about some of the buried messages in this little event, take it as a teaching moment, a way to shed some light on how the media operates, and what it has to tell us about the state of religion and religious discourse in the good ol’ U.S. of A.